Alaska’s largest city is a community of nearly 300,000 people rimmed by the blue waters of the Cook Inlet and the snow-capped Chugach Mountains. With one of the largest land areas of any city in the U.S., Anchorage offers an abundance of outdoor activities — an appealing mix of easy hikes and bike rides, thrilling downhill skiing, and heart-pounding adventures, all within city limits.
Anchorage is not just about working up a sweat, however: Visitors can explore the burgeoning craft beer and artisan food scenes and become more familiar with the Indigenous cultures that populated the region thousands of years ago. So pack your hiking boots and a hearty appetite and get ready to experience some of the unexpected things to see and do in Anchorage.
1. Spot moose and bald eagles on a bike ride.
The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, an 11-mile paved, two-lane track connecting downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park, hugs the Cook Inlet and offers plenty of lookout points between stretches of fragrant forest. You might spot moose, bald eagle, or, on a clear day, Mount Susitna (otherwise known as “Sleeping Lady”) — or even the slopes of Denali. Rent bicycles at Pablo’s Bicycle Rentals in downtown, near the trailhead.
2. Sip craft beer brewed from Alaska water.
Relax on two rooftop patios at the three-story 49th State Brewing Company and sip beers — including the Eight Star Lager, brewed from pure glacial water, and Smok, a smoked lager — paired with a panoramic view. Midnight Sun Brewing Co. turns water from the Chugach Mountains into barrel-aged stouts and barley wines perfectly attuned to the Alaska climate; sample them (and many other craft brews) at their South Anchorage brewpub.
3. See a glacier up close.
The easy, 3.2-mile Byron Glacier Trail in the Portage Valley brings you right to the edge of the Byron Glacier — with the chance to explore ice caves and have summer snowball fights along the way. Alternatively, hop on Portage Glacier Cruises’ hour-long tour aboard the fully enclosed, 80-foot mv Ptarmigan. You’ll get within 300 yards of Portage Glacier — close enough to see icebergs calve and crash into the water.
4. Climb sand dunes like a kid.
No, it’s not the desert, but you can pretend you’re having tea in the Sahara without even leaving Anchorage city limits at 1,400-acre Kincaid Park, where you’ll find a 40-foot-high dune formed from sand deposited by Ice Age glaciers and shaped by the winds off Turnagain Arm (park at the Jodhpur trailhead to access the dune). In addition to climbing up and sliding down the sand, you can explore the park’s 40 miles of walking trails and 20 miles of bicycle trails.
5. View world-class art from Alaskan and Indigenous artists.
With 25,000 objects in its collection, downtown’s Anchorage Museum is also the home of the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center. Highlights of the permanent collection include paintings by Sydney Laurence, an artist popular for his romantic landscapes of Alaska. The museum’s gift shop is a terrific source for only-in-Alaska items, like “Glacial Facial” masks using clay from the Copper River Delta; beaded necklaces; and seal fur wallets.
6. Feast on monster king crab and reindeer sausage.
Don’t let Alaska’s short growing season fool you. Many Anchorage restaurants source from nearby farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. The reindeer sausage is a must at downtown’s Snow City Café, which slings breakfast until 3 p.m. At Jack Sprat in Girdwood, the ingredients are local but the inspiration global: Kodiak Weathervane scallops with smoked jalapeno and garlic hot sauce; local halibut cheeks served with black-eyed peas and collard greens. Diners at the venerable Simon & Seafort’s crack open Alaskan Golden King crab legs paired with melted butter — and a water view.
7. See unique wildlife within city limits.
Few cities can boast about their abundant wildlife; Anchorage has it in spades, with species — moose, bear, beluga whales, fox, Dall sheep, and a variety of birds — you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the U.S. Spot musk ox and caribou, along with moose and brown bear, on the scenic one-mile loop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a 200-acre sanctuary for injured and orphaned animals.
8. Dance and play traditional games with Alaska Natives.
The Alaska Native Heritage Center is a living cultural center, helping to share and preserve Alaska Native culture through dance performances, Alaska Native games based on hunting and surviving skills, and classes taught by master artists. The center’s Ch’k’iqadi Gallery showcases art by Indigenous artists; keep an eye out for works from Aleut couple Darlene and Peter Lind Sr.: She makes bronze sculptures and beaded and ivory jewelry; he crafts throwing boards and spears, as well as native kayaks, out of wood.
9. Go wild in one of the country’s largest state parks.
The 495,000-acre Chugach State Park contains a whopping 155 peaks, a utopia for hiking and mountain biking, plus ice climbing come winter. Go deep with Greatland Adventures’ private, all-day hiking trips to the park, or take a kayaking excursion on Eklutna Lake with Lifetime Adventures. The best part? You can drive from the center of Anchorage to some of the park's trailheads in just 20 minutes.